Nowadays, people are constantly looking for alternative sources of energy to power their homes. One of these energy sources is called geothermal energy, and it often comes in the form of a geothermal water heater.
If you want to know how you can use geothermal energy to power your home, then you’ve come to the right place. Begin your geothermal journey by reading this article.
What does “geothermal” mean?”
When you harness the heat generated below the Earth’s surface and use it to power appliances in your home, you utilise geothermal energy. The U.S. Department of Energy claims that geothermal energy is a great way to use clean and renewable energy.
Geothermal water heaters are pumps that use underground pipes that capture heat from the Earth’s core and use it to provide geothermal energy for your home.
Most households using geothermal energy come from states that often experience severe weather, such as Texas. Power bills can rise fast if you rely solely on electricity as your primary energy source, but a geothermal water heater can change that.
How does a geothermal water heater work?
Your run-of-the-mill average geothermal heater works the same way a conventional heat pump would. It uses a high-pressure refrigerant to trap heat and move it from outdoor to indoor and vice versa.
However, the unique thing about geothermal heat pumps is that instead of using outside air to gather and release heat (which is what a conventional heat pump does), it moves the heat underground through long pipe loops filled with liquid.
How does it do this?
Well, you may remember from your Science lessons that the temperature of the Earth remains constant regardless of the weather outside. It could be winter in your area and summer in another, but the Earth’s temperature remains the same.
When a traditional heat pump tries to create heat for your home, it uses the outside air. This takes a LOT of energy, especially if it’s below zero outside. Some pumps even struggle to generate heat.
Since a geothermal pump is buried underground where the temperature remains constant, it will have no trouble gathering enough heat to bring into your home. The liquid constantly running through its pipes, maintain a stable temperature to power your heating and cooling at home.
What are the different types of geothermal systems?
There are different types of geothermal pump systems, and each one has its own set of conditions. These conditions include soil, climate, and your home. There are two main types for you (or your contractor) to choose from:
1. Closed-loop geothermal heat pumps
These pumps circulate a solution called antifreeze within closed-loop tubes. These tubes are either buried underground or wholly submerged underwater. A heat exchanger then moves the heat from the antifreeze solution to the heat pump refrigerant and vice versa.
There are three kinds of closed-loop geothermal heat pumps:
a. Horizontal system
This system involves using straight runs or layered coils of a polyethylene pipe. They are placed in trenches about six feet deep. A horizontal system is one of the cheapest geothermal options, but it does need a lot of underground space.
Expect to have a lot more land dug up if you want to install a horizontal system. A house that’s about 2,000 square feet would need approximately 400 feet of space with trenches dug about two feet wide.
b. Vertical system
A vertical system is more appropriate for homes that do not have a lot of land space. Instead of digging up vast swaths of land, workers would only need to drill holes that are four inches in diameter and fifteen feet apart.
The drilling will go about 400 feet into the ground, and afterwards, two pipes will be inserted in the holes and connected once they reach the bottom.
c. Pond or lake system
If your house has a nearby pond or lake, then the pipes can be submerged in it instead. A pond or lake system traps heat from the body of water instead of the soil.
The water would then cover the pipe coils anchored onto racks and submerged at least 10 feet below the surface.
This is another one of the cheapest geothermal options, but it is more affordable than a horizontal system.
2. Open-loop geothermal heat pumps
An open-loop configuration uses surface water or a well as transfer fluid instead of antifreeze. Once the water has run its course, it is returned to the well.
For this procedure to work, you would need a stable supply of natural water to be efficient in the long run.
Pros and cons of geothermal water heaters
Pro: It’s environment-friendly
A geothermal pump uses renewable energy that is clean and has no untoward effects on the environment. You don’t run the risk of experiencing onsite combustion, so you are safe from carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and other emissions from greenhouse gases.
This applies to both inside and outside your home. Expect an air quality that will not harm you and anyone else living in the area.
Con: It costs a lot of money to install
Deciding to use a geothermal water heater for your home is not a light decision to make. Expect to spend between $10,000 to $30,000 for a successful installation.
The costs will also depend on the size of your housing plot, soil conditions, accessibility to the geothermal site, and how much drilling and digging the workers will have to do.
Average homes around 2,000 square feet will usually cost you about $10,000 to $20,000, and the process could include ductwork modifications and extensive excavation.
Installation costs are significantly reduced if the home is new but do note that opting for a geothermal system will cost you 40% more than a traditional HVAC system in upfront costs.
However, it will prove a worthwhile investment in the long run. You can “earn” back this money within five to fifteen years, depending on the electricity or utility rates in your state.
Furthermore, only a handful of installers for a geothermal system keep prices higher due to less competition.
Consult a financial advisor to determine whether the decision to go geothermal makes sense for you financially.
Pro: It doesn’t cost much to keep running
Although the upfront costs are high, geothermal water heaters will save you a lot of money on operation costs. Expect to save between 30% to 60% on your heating bill and 20% to 25% on cooling costs.
On top of that, you can also rest assured knowing your cooling system is running smoothly without the bother of a noisy outdoor compressor keeping you awake. Most indoor cooling units function the same way a refrigerator does.
Con: They’re harder to install in older homes
Older homes may not be equipped to handle a geothermal system, making it difficult to retrofit it into your home—or downright impossible. The installation process will also require a lot of digging and heavy drilling.
Some homes and yards are not meant for this kind of heavy-duty activity. Criteria such as soil conditions, viable land, heating and cooling load, etc., all contribute to the cost of installation.
Should the workers deem your soil or land unworkable, you may not be able to opt for a geothermal system.
Pro: You’ll barely notice it’s there
Most of the geothermal pipes are hidden underground. That’s how they get geothermal energy from the heat of the Earth’s core.
You don’t need to have a large condenser taking up vast amounts of space inside or outside your home. The loops from a geothermal pump are buried deep underground, and the entire system barely makes a sound.
Should I really go geothermal?
That’s a decision that relies on a lot of factors. If you are paying an exorbitant fee on your utility bills, you should consider how much you will save by using a geothermal heating pump instead.
Experts say that you need to consider other factors such as:
- Upfront costs
- You have a stable water supply
- You are building a new house
- Current utility bill costs
A geothermal system costs a lot of money when it comes to upfront installation costs. The good thing about it is that you can “earn” this money back with the money you save.
We recommend geothermal systems for people who are living in permanent homes so that you can enjoy the total value of your investment.
If you have a well, pond, or lake nearby, then that means you save a lot more money on installation costs.
Save on cooling and heating costs from the get-go by including the upfront costs of a geothermal system into your mortgage. This also allows you to get the underground works settled before you move in.
If you’re already paying a fortune on your utility bill, you might as well get a geothermal pump instead so that you give back to the environment and save up on bills.
Do your homework before deciding to use a geothermal water heater for your home. Ensure that it makes financial sense to your budget and won’t make you lose money in the long run.
Remember that you cannot do this project yourself. Although upfront costs are daunting, you need to hire a contractor to do the work for you. This ensures less work on your part and that the job is done well.